I normally avoid Panda Express, the largest Chinese fast-food joint in the United States. Actually, as far as my regular diet is concerned, I stay away from all fast food chains. However, when I am traveling (during a long road trip, in the airport) I give myself a longer leash because of the limited dining options.
Heading to my gate at the international terminal at JFK, I walked by the Panda Express and the idea of Americanized-Chinese chain food appealed to me at that specific moment (10:07 AM Eastern).
As impulsive as I was feeling at the time, I knew that I had to do some research whether Panda Express had MSG in their food — seeing as Monosodium Glutamate has a 100% likelihood of throwing me into a migraine headache.
As I double-backed to PandaX after searching unsuccessfully for an alternative, I pulled up Panda Express’s official site on my mobile phone.
After a few clicks (they could use some SEO), I came across their FAQ section where the company claims that they don’t add MSG to their entrees:
After coming across that info, I was pleasantly surprised and thought I was safe to order. I put in an order for their glistening mushroom chicken and beef and broccoli, two dishes with sauces usually packed with MSG, without rice or noodles. I consumed it happily.
A short time after eating the two entrees, I started to feel some of the same effects I experience after I’ve eaten food with MSG. The migraine-like aura clearly wasn’t as strong as other times when I had MSG, but it was apparent there was SOMETHING in the food that triggered the symptoms.
So, Is There MSG in Panda Express’ Food?
Despite Panda Express’s claims, there are quite a few instances online where patrons have experienced MSG-related reactions to their food. Panda Express has stated that they don’t use MSG in their food for as far back as 2008, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have other ingredients that could cause problems for their customers:
Their food is supposedly MSG free. However, the massive amounts of modified corn starch, corn syrup, and processing chemicals in their food would definitely cause the symptoms you described. (source)
I had a very similar experience as this mother had:
We have stopped eating at Panda Express. I am very sensitive to MSG and get Migraines and gastro issues when I eat anything with it. I had not eaten Panda in months because I had gotten ill on it so decided to stay away from it. Was out shopping and the restaurant was close, so I picked it up to bring home and try it again. You guessed it. I woke up with a severe migraine and spent half the day in the bathroom with severe gas pains. I am a nurse and tracked my diet back 48 hours and know Panda food was the issue. I called the restaurant, but they insisted they do not “add MSG”, however the manager hesitated when I asked if anyone at anytime in the food processing chain added MSG or related product. (source)
I can’t believe this is the largest fast food Chinese chain in America… It should be named gross chinese food instead of gourmet… AND IT DOES HAVE MSG!!! (urbanspoon)
This place puts so much MSG in there food it really is bad. I asked to get food woot and they said no.. If you like MSG great but we passed… (tripadvisor)
MSG just isn’t in MSG. What that means is that monosodium glutamate can be found in other products (hence “found naturally”) and are used in the “processing” of other products:
The following are a few products that ALWAYS contain MSG:
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Hydrolyzed Protein: (plant, vegetable, any kind)
Sodium or Calcium Caseinate
Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract
Yeast Food, Yeast Nutrient
The following products may contain MSG or create MSG during processing:
Natural Flavors, flavoring, flavors, natural �anything� flavor
Bouillon or Stock
Broth (chicken, beef, any kind)
Whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate
Soy sauce, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate
Malt Extract or Flavoring, Malted Barley
Anything Protein fortified
Anything Ultra Pasteurized
Does Panda Express Use/Have MSG?
Technically, Panda Express many not have MSG added directly into their food, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t use other ingredients or other food products that may already have MSG in them — naturally or not.
For example, if one of their sauces uses chicken or beef broth as its base, then it will include a form of MSG. And depending on your sensitivities, that might be enough to mess you up.
I’m not mad at Panda Express, but I consider that a lesson learned that when I see “No MSG Added” (or even “No MSG”) posted in a restaurant doesn’t necessarily always mean that there’s no MSG at all.